The UK Cosmetic Industry, and Women of Colour

While walking through the aisles of many UK high street department stores, I have to admit, my heart truly sinks. Before which, a wave of various emotions usually topples me over. The shelves overflow with different brands of products, all looking quite colourful. Bright lights at cosmetic counter displays beckon me to draw nearer. I feel like I’m running through a field of flowers. It’s every girls dream (well at least it’s mine) to be surrounded by walls of cosmetics on either side, but unfortunately for me, my bliss is short lived, as most of these stores (more like all in my opinion) don’t cater for my skin tone, or that of women of a similar hue. The “kid in a candy store” feeling, suffers a quick painful death, strangled by the undeniable truth, that the products I sought, would not be found at the store I was previously happy to enter.

Now although I am passionate about the makeup industry, and how myself and many other women like me are treated, I shall try my best to show both sides of this hideous coin. Some posit that the reason shop displays are set up the way they are, is all down to demographics. The head of many cosmetic retail departments might buttress their entire argument on this claim. They may say, “Where the customers are, we will go, and what they want, we will provide”. This is basic business sense, but answer me this, why is it that in areas where more women of colour reside, there is evidence of the same or similar pattern in stores? i.e. little to no products for coloured women. Had it been a case truly based upon demographics, each department store’s cosmetic section would look slightly different as far as their makeup is concerned, in an attempt to provide for the different consumers in varying areas. According to the UK Mintel Report 2009 “12% of the total population are non-whites, however, ethnic beauty products represent just 1% of all new haircare, skincare and make-up launches. The ethnic market has a long way to go to be brought in-line with the demographic make-up of the UK population….”.If the number of coloured people in the UK was around 12% in 2009,why is it that ethnic beauty product launches were so low? In this day and age, women should not have to be hunting “under rocks”, and mixing different foundations like potions in an attempt to find something that resembles their natural skin tone.

Another fracture within this bone of contention, that those with views opposed to mine may like to point out, is the issue of profitability. At the end of the day, the world of cosmetics is a business, and business men and women need to make their money. I am in concert with this view, however the UK Mintel report again provides some damming facts against my rivals “The 7.3 million strong ethnic population is growing faster than the white population in the UK. This expansion offers strong growth opportunities for cosmetics and toiletries products that target the UK’s non-white population”. Am I the only one seeing £ signs here? I will just have to take advantage of this growth in the ethnic population as present entrepreneurs in the cosmetic industry are not doing so. This thing has the terms “immense profits” and “golden opportunity” written all over it. Is it that they don’t see the opportunity? Why does it seem like they prefer to turn a blind eye to focus on an already heavily saturated market?

Presently there have been a lot of people campaigning to see more British brands on shelves. Some store owners claim to be strong supporters of this, yet there are high quantities of non British made cosmetics staring people in the face. British brands like Sleek and K cosmetics (Beverley Knight), that cater for dark skin tones are seen at selected stores. If non British brands are on the shelves, why are brands such as Black Opal, Makeup Forever or Sacha Cosmetics not there beside them? Is the little black girl born in Lewisham Hospital five hours ago not British? What about the married mother of four across the street who is of Asian decent? Is she not British also? Why are they not being provided for? Whether it is liked or not, the face of the UK is changing. Why is the cosmetic industry so stiff necked and resistant to change? I have to applaud Sleek cosmetics though, as they have created a lot of new foundation shades to assist women of colour. However, some stores that carry Sleek foundations have the audacity to put only 2-4 shades for women of colour on display (if so many),to make it seem as though they care for all their customers. I see it as a total disrespect. The different complexions of women of colour could never be satisfied by a measly 2-4 shades. It is a crying shame as far as I see it.
More bitter herbs to bite on now, as we delve into the topic of store image. Every cosmetic counter is unique. Some do low end brands, and others high end brands. Those that do the high end stuff tend to portray an image of luxury and all things fashionable. A lot of these counters rarely cater for women of colour. Since when did colour become unfashionable? Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of high end stores that carry brands like MAC, but MAC alone is not enough. What about brands like Bobbi Brown, Makeup Forever and Sacha? These brands are all high end stuff and some are even more expensive than MAC. Look at this for instance, MAC Studio Fix Powder retails for £19.50, Bobbi Brown Extra Repair Foundation SPF 25, retails for £36 and Sacha Cosmetics 2 in 1Foundation and powder retails for £25. These are all high quality products that won’t harm the fashionable image of any establishment. If anything it can add to it, as Sacha has been used at Miss Universe Pageants. There is money to be made in supplying these products if you ask me.
There are many arguments as to why the cosmetic industry in the UK is not favourably disposed to women of colour. The views that demographics , profits, loyalty to country, and store image are responsible for this sad state of affairs, may be partly true in some instances. But even when these points are combined, they cannot totally suffice to explain this mess. Let me conclude by saying, that this was not posted to incite hate against anyone. This is my humble attempt, to get “The powers that be”, in the realms of the UK cosmetic industry to see us, and realise that not only is investing in colour profitable, but also to remind them that colour is beautiful, has always been and will always be. So stock it on the shelves of your beauty counters please, and show that you are indeed different. Show that you truly care.


Written by Makeba Hudson

Photography by Deeper Image Photography